Conversations with Fear

Technology: January 5, 2000

     "Let's talk about technology."
     "Okay," relied Fear with a grin; "it's becoming one of my favorite subjects."
     "Because technology is the best way I have of thwarting intimacy and thus isolating you people from one another."
     "Explain yourself."
     "Well," said Fear, "let's consider intimacy. Intimacy—which has a human face—is based on mutual trust, respect, and open, honest communication; it's two people treating each other with affection, consideration, and kindness while simultaneously protecting each other's individuality and autonomy. In other words, it is two people defending each other's dignity."
     "I don't see much of that these days," I said. "Even my parents didn't do that."
     "Of course not," observed Fear. "After all, your parents taught you about me! How could they teach you something they didn't understand themselves? Besides, when parents are stingy with their love or make it conditional in order to control each other and/or their children, what do you think the children learn?
     "Remember, children learn by example, not by lectures. So they naturally end up with the same defensive behavioral patterns of mistrust, hostility, withholding, emotional withdrawal, and self-centered manipulation as their parents, which is how my disciples increase in numbers. A beautiful dynamic, isn't it?"
     "How do you know that what you say is true?" I asked.
     "Well, think about it! When you're stressed and feeling out of control, don't you ever eat, even though you're not physically hungry?"
     "Yes, sometimes."
     "Got ya!" chortled Fear. "Look at the eating disorders, the 'comfort eating,' and the obsessive-compulsive disorders in your country; these are all manifestations of people's inability to form intimate relationships. If you have doubts, consider that people tend to choose mates who posses the same negative characteristics as one or both of the their parents."
     "Why do you think so?"
     "Because," continued Fear, "you become what you think about, what you focus on. If, therefore, you resist a negative parent, you think about him or her most of the time and ultimately become that which you are against—the parent you resist. In that you have no choice."
     "But what, may I ask, has that got to do with choosing a mate?"
     "You ask the most inane questions," snorted Fear. "Obviously, people choose what is familiar and hence comfortable. If they chose wisely, Love would prevail instead of me. Fortunately, however, exceedingly few people have the courage to chart their own courses."
     "So," I mused, "if people had the courage to examine their attitudes and resultant behavior, they could change both, and they would most likely form healthy, long-term, intimate relationships."
     "Exactly," said Fear. "But they don't."
     "Why not?"
     "Because of what Euripides wrote in his play Iphigenia in Tauris."
     "Who on Earth is 'Euripides?'"
     "Oh, I forgot. Euripides was before your time."
     "Well? Who was he or she?"
     "He was a Greek dramatist who lived some 2,400 years ago."
     "So? What did he write that holds you spellbound?"
     "I'm not 'spellbound!' I brought it up only because it points to a basic human weakness."
     "Are you, or are you not, going to tell me what he wrote?"
     "Euripides wrote:

        'The wisest men follow their own direction
        And listen to no prophet guiding them.
        None but the fools believe in oracles,
        Forsaking their own judgment.'

     "To me—and I'm sure to Euripides also—most people are fools and thus form fantasy bonds, imaginary connections that give them a false sense of security. At other times, they nurture the illusion that they are ruggedly sufficient unto themselves and don't need anyone else. When this dynamic takes over their imagination, they act it out in ways that push their mates into the background because it's easier than working to achieve real satisfaction with them."
     "Go on," I said as Fear paused.
     "People initially get married because in some sense they each fulfill a missing part of the other," continued Fear. "With time, however, they gradually drift apart. While they maintain an imagined intimacy, they give up real love, sensitivity, and affection to perpetuate their fantasy."
     "That would certainly seem to have fitted my parent's relationship," I said thoughtfully.
     "And in your parents time, the pace of life was slower than it is today," said Fear somewhat absently.
     "Today everyone's not only in a hurry but also increasingly mobile and generally dissatisfied with what they have, always trying to move up the economic ladder by going from one job to another. Young people, as a result of these instabilities, are much more anxious than was the case in your generation or that of your parents. The result is that many young people latch onto each other in their unconscious search for stability, only to find out over time that they are, at best, ill-suited for intimacy, let alone a long-term relationship."
     "This is all well and good," I said with some irritation, "but I asked to discuss technology. What on Earth does intimacy have to do with technology anyway?"
     "My we're impatient, aren't we? Okay, let's talk specifically about technology.
     "A central irony of the world today is that people of the industrialized nations—steeped as they are in material comforts and enslaved by 'labor-saving' devises—seem to have unlimited wants and a limited ability to satisfy them in terms of money or to enjoy them in terms of time. Thus, there exists a pervasive sense of scarcity in that people, who cannot have everything they desire, must choose what they want. Each choice, each act of consumption is therefore an act not only of denial but also of perceived deprivation.
     "Another facet of technology is the sense it gives people of ever-greater control over their environment, which today in Western society is all-too-often seen as a war against the uncertainties of nature—against the creative novelty of the universe itself. I find this of particular interest because technology, by its very conception, is supposedly designed to make life easier by making as much manual labor unnecessary as possible, while making life as predictable as possible. To this end, technology is still idealized both as labor saving and a means of increasing the predictability of nature while maintaining given material lifestyles. But something has shifted in the human drive for predictability in that people, who are focused primarily on making money and the sense of power it engenders, use technology to replace other people's jobs, which fosters the growing social inequality among those with material means and those without."
     "Although I think I have a general grasp of what you mean, I'm not sure. Please elaborate."
     "Maybe," said Fear, "an example will help. Think of it this way:  Those who can afford to own the machines, which do more work than one person can, feel entitled to keep more of the profits. Thus, if it originally took ten men to produce a certain amount of goods for sale, each man was paid a given amount. But with the advent of a machine that can now replace nine of those men and still produce the same amount of commodity, the reasoning is something like this:  'I've invested my monetary capital in the purchase of this machine; therefore, I'm entitled to keep nine-tenths of the profits since my machine represents nine-tenths of the productive capacity because it takes only one person to operated the machine, which produces as much a ten men.' And so the first people were put out of work by a 'labor-saving' invention, which not only separated economic production from social life but also strictly reinforced the tie of individual well-being to individual production, which inevitably leads to competition, which in turn leads to social inequality, poverty, and environmental degradation.
     "Bluntly, at some point in history, those who lusted after wealth and power discovered that if they could own the technology, they could use it to produce more of a given product with fewer people and thus keep more of the profits for themselves. At the same time, they could control people's behavior because there were now more workers than available jobs as more and more people lost their jobs to machines. At that point, labor-saving technology shifted to social tyranny because the unspoken purpose of such technology began to move from labor saving, in terms of creating a better life for everyone, to people replacing in order to garner more wealth and power for the few who could afford to own the technology. After all, machines don't ask for wages, aren't late to work, don't talk back, don't call in sick, make no human mistakes, don't want child care or maternity leave, don't expect health benefits, retirement pensions, or paid vacations, and so on."
     "What," I asked "do you get out of this?"
     "What makes you think I get something out of it?"
     "Because you said before that 'technology is the best way you have of thwarting intimacy and thus isolating people from one another.'"
     "OOPS! I did say that, didn't I?"
     "You certainly did. What's wrong? Did you let the cat out of the bag, so to speak."
     "Well, yes in a sense, but since there's nothing you can do about it, I'll explain. Intimacy requires a human face, a human dimension, whereas technology does not. Do you remember your old telephone number when you were a boy?"
     "Yes; 943W."
     "Do you remember anyone else's number?"
     "Yes, that of Gary Gray:  942J."
     "When you wanted to call him, what did you do?"
     "I picked up the receiver and an operator asked what number I wanted. I would tell her, and she would ring it. Of course, in those days, we had a party line with a number of people on it, so I sometimes had to wait for my call to get through."
     "It doesn't work that way any more, does it?"
     "No, it sure doesn't. It went from an operator and a party line, to an operator and a private line, to direct dial, to an answering machine, to some inanimate voice machine with a series of recorded messages I don't care about that seldom give me the information I want. In addition, it's becoming increasingly difficult at many businesses and agencies to even reach a person. It's as if they don't want to be bothered with talking to a customer anymore, not to mention serving one.
     "And just the other day, I walked into a store only to find that a machine now acts as a cashier, replacing still another person's job. I want a human face, a human voice—even a grouchy one. What are all these people going to do without the dignity of decent work?"
     "That," said Fear, "is the point. Technology is increasingly replacing the human touch, the human expression, and in so doing is further jeopardizing people's already diminished capacity to deal with intimacy. How I love it!"
     "You sound like you had a hand in developing such dehumanizing, isolating technology!"
     "Well of course! I'm the genius behind it. What's your first clue? What better way is there to gain control over people than by severing their connections to one another—all in the guise of saving their precious time from exhausting labor?"
     "But not all technology is so defacing," I countered.
     "True," admitted Fear, "some is inspired by Love. But even that can be subverted when employed by people who bow to me. Consider the anonymity of the Internet and all the identity theft, pornography, and fraud that is daily perpetrated in cyberspace under the close supervision of myself and one of my trusted familiars—Greed, of whom we shall visit later.
     "My crowning glory is yet to come, however."
     "Obviously, you want me to ask you what that 'crowning glory' is."
     "I thought you'd never ask—robots with human emotions and intelligence."
     "Robots with human emotions and intelligence," I said in disbelief. "You've got to be kidding."
     "Not at all," replied Fear with a wide grin. "As we speak, people are not only building human expressions into robots and simulating human emotions and voices but also simulating human intelligence. And I foresee the time when machines of my design will rule people's minds as they already do the lives of those who have become dependent on gadgets for entertainment, work, diversions, a sense of security, and a sense of power. Need I go on?"
     "No. I recently saw something to that affect on the news. You're really slimy! You know that?"
     "Why Chris, you actually paid me a compliment."
     "It was unintentional, I assure you. Nevertheless, I get your point about the connection between intimacy and technology. Without intimacy, you will rule the world of the human mind because trust—a prerequisite for intimacy in human relationship—will erode to nothing."
     "Precisely! You people are all creatures who must share life's experiences with one another to know you exist and have value. You may deny this, which many people do, but that doesn't alter the fact that your value comes from being together. If I strip you of your sense of connectedness, of face-to-face communication, of sharing the human dimension through the use of depersonalizing technology, then I can demoralize you to the point that you will turn to me for guidance. In essence, if I can depress you to such an extent that you become desensitized to one another, that you become socially disoriented, then I can increase the number of sociopaths in my flock—and undermine Love. What a delicious thought!"
     "Well, what if I simplify my life? What if I get rid of all the unnecessary technological gadgets in my life? What if I have enough—and know that I have enough? What if I'm satisfied because I have what I want, and I want what I have. What then?"
     "That's too horrible to contemplate," said Fear with a shudder.
     "Because I'll be exposed," whined Fear. "If you can define me, I can be replaced by Love. If I'm replaced by Love, then all I'll ever see is the darkness of my own kingdom, where I'll have to face myself—an excruciating thought. That's why I teach as many people as I can that 'bigger is better,' that 'more is better!' It's the only way I can hide from my reality."
     "And just what is that?" may I ask.
     "My reality is that I'm nothing but a figment of your imagination. I exist only if you think I do. As I told you before, I'm not allowed in the present moment, where God—I mean the Eternal—and Love abide."
     "If I understand you correctly, you're saying that you can only live in someone's mind if they have inner disharmony and mental clutter, but you can't live in the mind of a person who has the inner harmony of simplicity and order. Am I correct in my understanding?"
     "Alas, yes."
     "So that's why you spawned greed, to keep from having to accept the nothingness of your pitiful self?"
     "Then tell me about greed."

© chris maser 2000. All rights reserved.

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